Friday, 25 June 2010

Chile loses!!!!!!

Only in Chile do people go out and fill the streets to celebrate losing a World Cup game.

Well, to be fair, that's not what they were celebrating.

Here are some pictures of earlier in the day. Let's hope we see the same scenes on Monday afternoon, after we play Brazil.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Obama's Latin American Policy

Last week a few American officials passed through town, and conversations with them got me thinking about American foreign policy in Latin America and beyond. Here is a column published today on the subject in El Mostrador.

To sum up, however, I think that Obama has held an excessive belief in his own powers of persuasion. I think he thought his soaring rhetoric would be enough to convince the world that the United States was now kinder and gentler, and that centuries of history no longer mattered because he, personally, was so much like them. In fact, the subliminal message for most of last year was, "I am more like you than those rednecks back home".

But he only ended up alienating the rednecks without really winning over the rest of the world. Latin America has not forgotten American history. The Arabs are suspicious, the Israelis pissed off. The Europeans are in a mess that Obama cannot solve. And the rednecks are having a Tea Party.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

When it rains it pours

Santiago was battered by 40 mm of rain yesterday. Doesn't sound like much, but even though every winter there are days like this, every year the authorities claim that the city is not prepared for something so unusual. It is like the leaves on British railway tracks: a yearly surprise.

In any event, while the rain was good news for ski resorts and the agricultural industry, it was bad news for a Piñera government. Just as it was celebrating what it described as a very successful first 100 days, several government officials went to South Africa to watch some soccer. Among them was the mining minister, who is in the midst of negotiating what place a royalty on mining will have in financing reconstruction efforts, and the governor of the region of Santiago, who would be in charge of overseeing the emergency response to the rain (yes kids, 40 mm of rain is an emergency in these here parts).

Ena von Baer is not wrong. After 100 days, the government has not done a bad job. It is certainly energetic, and is putting in place some audacious initiatives. But its weak spot continues to be PR. Whether nominating unsuitable candidates for positions, having its officials say outrageous things, having them do outrageous things, the government seems to take one step forward and two steps back. If it can get this under control, its next 1360 days should be much better.

If not, it will be like watching a car wreck over and over.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Fair is Fair

The last couple of days have been dominated by the outcry over the Chilean ambassador to Argentina's Clarin interview, in which he defended the Pinochet dictatorship (or 'pronouncement', as he calls it). The government's first reaction was to say he did not speak for them, which is, at the very least, an odd position for an ambassador to be in. If he doesn't speak for the government, then what's he doing all day?

In the end, the media pressure was too much. Within two days, Otero was called back to Santiago, and resigned.

So, fair is fair, the Piñera government acted swiftly and controlled the damage. It has probably opened (yet again) a flank with the UDI, but on the other hand it can claim that it named a hardliner to an important post and he blew it. In other words, the government has another red mark in the UDI's notebook, and the UDI has another red mark in the government's notebook.

As Rick Blaine would have said, Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Lunch with Seb

His Excellency the President of the Republic did not request the honour of my company for lunch yesterday.

Apparently I was among the few people in Chile who was not invited.

OK, maybe not Chile. Santiago.

Maybe not Santiago, but Academia.

OK. Maybe not Academia, but Political Science.

OK. Maybe there were a few economists there too.

In any event, it was an interesting signal. The president and some top policy advisers inviting what passes for the Best and the Brightest to chit chat. It is notable for several reasons: for the fact that the president values the opinions of academics (and political scientists to boot!), for the fact that he smoked, for the ideological diversity of those at the table, and for the lack of diversity of those at the table. They were almost all men, almost all of the same generation, and almost all academics who have some sort of public profile, columnists, etc.

In other words, and as Patricio Navia noted, the views expressed were not necessarily much different from those Piñera could obtain in the newspapers on any given Sunday.

So what was the point of it all? Does the president want to be seen as an equal, that he can hold his own amongst academics (as well as among CEOs and presidents)? Does he want to be seen as ideologically open? Does he wish to turn the Moneda into a kind of Chilean Camelot?

It is an intriguing notion.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Piñera: Third Way?

Chileans are still trying to get to know our new prez. So far, the 21 May State of the Union may have been our best chance to read the tea leaves, but he did not make it easy.

Never one to be daunted by a mystical challenge, I try to do so here.